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Book TV After Words

John Jenkins Education. (2012) 'The Partisan The Life of William Rehnquist.'

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Rehnquist 46, William Rehnquist 18, Brown 8, Us 8, Richard Nixon 5, Washington 4, Phoenix 3, Stanford 3, United States 3, Berger 3, Douglas 3, Lewis Powell 3, Naacp 3, John Jenkins 3, John Mitchell 2, Texas 2, California 2, Ronald Reagan 2, Ted Kennedy 2, Mitchell 2,
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  CSPAN    Book TV After Words    John Jenkins  Education.  (2012) 'The  
   Partisan The Life of William Rehnquist.'  

    October 14, 2012
    12:00 - 1:00pm EDT  

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is a happy ending that nobody kills themselves. so it's a tricky area to tread. but we do see a change gradually. but even now, i mean, i've had several novels and the suicides are tragedies and it's a great and. it's really exciting to have something terrible happened. but she want to make sure the characters are suffering just for their sensuality sexuality, that is about something else. one last question. >> setting for younger generation a gay man who proudly experienced after the fall of the berlin wall, it's refreshing to look back at vidal's essays and see a moral force to take sun, for instance, as rigorously and thoroughly as it does
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imperialism. i'm wondering if you have anything to say about kind of a pigeon holding a gay and a certain identity politics mode that keeps gay man from being pragmatic about more things than just this sexuality. >> all gay writers just happened to be gay and don't want to be pigeonholed. but in general, most readers if you have one gay character in the book is a gay novel and it's hard to break out. all of this trading mix mix in straight carry case, which thinks of other ratios. but it's hard to get out of that talks. i tried to do it repeatedly myself and i don't really know how. it's more about marketing.
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is it about readers clicks that are really now. but that's a good question and something were out running with. thank you. that's all for now. so you're a great audience. thank you very much. [applause] albion the next room signing books if you want to come by and thank you very much. [applause] >> this event is part of the 2012 national book festival in washington d.c. for more information, visit loc.us/books asked.
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>> coming up, booktv presents "after words," whereby a guess as to what a few authors. this week, legal journalist john jenkins and his book, "the partisan: the life of william rehnquist." and i come to the publisher cq press details the early career in the 33 year supreme court tenure of the former chief justice. he talks a supreme court reporter and the biographer for justices o'connor and scully a, joan biskupic. >> welcome, john jenkins. we're here to talk about your new book, "the partisan: the life of william rehnquist." i'm going to start with one general question, just to give our viewers a sense of the chief justice is and why william rehnquist was important.
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there's only been 17 cheese, correct? tell us a little bit about the position. what is the chief justice of the united states during the horton of william rehnquist and then we'll go into this chronology. >> guest: welcome to the chief has to rose in the judicial system. this first kind of the chief among equals in the quarter. he assigned the opinion when he's in the majority. he leads a discussion of the conference, so he is an important role to play among the nine justices and it's really the key guy they are, particularly in the majority. but the other thing that she says is really the head of the entire administrative office of the u.s. courts. sort of runs the entire court system and that's a whole part of his administrative responsibility they don't have. but that's the chief justice does. >> will talk our god and that decision. let's go back to the beginning.
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born october 1st, read around this time 1924, his father was a paper salesman and his mother was a homemaker, but she was the dominant force in the household, right? tell me a little bit about mrs. wren quist in a little bit about how she got him to change his middle name, which was what not change the course of his life to >> guest: well, she was very superstitious in terms of the middle name. they named him william donald rehnquist born in october 1st 1924. and his mother he believed she was really very, very fascinating women. she spoke five languages in addition to english. don't ask me what goes where. there's a footnote in the book. she was very learned. she was very proud of her education at the university of wisconsin. with his father and mother were wisconsin nurse.
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they really haven't traveled far at all and they were very, very middle-class folks in the depression. and the father is a paper salesman had gotten through high school. he actually lost the family house. he was the breadwinner and in 1939 who sold the action and mystery book call it little suburb of milwaukee. it was sold for the death of a sonic, which is $77,000. see the family had been kinder through some very dire straits. they were also very conservative. they were america firsters, which meant they didn't want america to be in world war ii. they were against the new deal and franklin roosevelt, they were very, very conservative household. where that conservatives and came, who knows except that it was pretty common when a string may be searched, pretty common, commonly found in that suburb at
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that time, the folks i interviewed told me. when someone was going into the army, just to jump up a little bit on the last name, when he was going into the army, his mother was very superstitious, and rehnquist also is very superstitious. and so, his mother believed that if he had a last name -- >> host: and middle name. >> guest: i'm sorry, a middle name that started with h., that would be good for him. in a numerologist had actually told her that. so when he was going in the army, he researched his genealogy and family at a grandmother and his father's side whose last name is hubs, so he changed his name themselves. he told harry blackmun, a sikh man on the corporate e-mail to blackmun one day and said he changed in high school, but i think his recollection was
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probably incorrect because he changed it when he signed up for the united states army in early 1943 when he enlisted in the army. at that point they asked him what his middle name was denise at hubs. he was always william h. rehnquist after that. >> host: he did tell the story turns into end of his life with the idea being that it made the difference and i remember he would've just been a justice of peace is the chief justice said the united states about it. one of the more crucial moves of his life after he leaves milwaukee and goes to stanford law school is becoming a clerk to supreme court justice robert jackson. tell us about how bad is good for is conservatively and to some of the conservatism on blacks and whites. >> guest: right. jackson was, i think, is seen by
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then even as a great justice. and he had in the prosecutor at the norberg were trials. it actually taken time off from the court and gone to nuremberg and then a chief prosecutor and then come back to the court. and so rehnquist graduates are the stanford law school early at the end of 1952. he was in a cause that would've graduated a semester later, the rehnquist finishes work. he was so smart he got out early. so it was clear what now is researching through his papers and looking at the diaries that he had actually -- that were on deposit with his papers were fascinating. he had six notebooks that were filled with his reminiscences and desires and early comments on memoirs.
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one of the things that was clear was that he really saw himself destined for some important job. beyond the court probably would certainly somewhere in government because he asked himself as as a student. he had actually written, what now honorable wh rehnquist, with a big question. >> is a law school student. >> is an early law school student. what now? that that's really fascinating because they really said he had this feeling of almost a destiny to be on the court when he was very, very john. there was this confluence of events, where jackson plays the role that allowed him to do that. he had a professor who he taken an interest in him. and so the professor was friends with robert h. jackson.
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jackson is going to be coming out to stanford. you have to remember is hard to get out there from washington. it was hard to get out there, was a rare for someone from stanford gave stanford had a good law school and rehnquist was smart, but it was hard for someone who wasn't in the ivy league to be a clerk on the court. it was very much an honor and it was hard. the justices in those days had been working with one clerk. so maybe nine people were 10, 11 people you're getting his clerkships. >> host: and i remember right they just distraction at a groundbreaking for the law school? what bottom-up there? >> guest: came out into things here but brought him out with the bohemian grove. so there was this bohemian grove in monte rio, california. i actually worked on another story about the bohemian growth, so i know the place well.
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if a man's club, all men. two dozen men getting together at a summer camp and they do it every year as there was the bohemian club in san francisco at posted this confab of corporate decision makers, government luminaries, diplomats, very, very important people. probably the equivalent today of at some of the big events that happened in aspen when you see folks in short sleeves kind of rubbing elbows with each other. so jackson was coming out in august of that year to do that. and so, his professors said first, which eucom? there's a groundbreaking of the law school, which you can speed? and then the professor surprise to rehnquist by saying i'm going to arrange for you to make an aired the interesting thing is that rehnquist gave me 10 and met with jackson and jackson
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just didn't even really interview him. rehnquist had a swedish ancestry, which was kind of a talking point of his always. and so, jackson got off on this tangent of talking about his swedish client study it had and told rehnquist some stories and rehnquist really didn't get a chance to really talk about himself area much. he didn't think he had done a very good job in the interview. and jackson thanked him and went on to say enough is that. so rehnquist doesn't hear anything now for a couple weeks and so he starts getting worried and he writes a letter to jackson and sissy nell, and in my last semester of law school. i really have to kind of figure out what i want to do. he says that that a number of interviews and offers in california. >> host: but that's not true,
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right? >> guest: at the villa quickest or, they said this. he later confessed to jackson that it wasn't true. so rehnquist said i got all this offers a need to make a decision. it was really kind smart and rehnquist's part. jackson comes back and says, you know, i think we could use -- and as jackson put it come a second fan. i think we could use a second man. and maybe by march of next year because they think the workload is going to be really, really hard for one man. and in those days they were the clerks. so rehnquist and petitions. he said i could come earlier. i'd like to be there in january. so jackson says come out in january. basically rehnquist kind of right man, right time. the timing was perfect and rehnquist drives the studebaker,
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which he tells about in his memoir about the supreme court. he drives this little studebaker to washington with no heater and gets caught in a blizzard, but he gets there and shows up at the court and he actually starts working. and you cannot at the supreme court in the corinthian columns in this great greatly bases now in. costco right. that's a really big right for him. obviously he had proven himself academically, very smart, got in the schools he applied to. but here's a crucial move for justice jackson. but it also leads to something that haunts him for the rest of his career. and that has to do with his demos in the brown people with education case. why don't you tell us what his role as an ally turned out to be controversial? >> guest: he routed number of my most of those moments stumbled out on stage in a very rough sequence many years later and they came back to haunt him. what he did is he gets better
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and percolating up through the courts already going back to 1950 other cases of the naacp legal and education defense fund that thurgood marshall is actually bringing. and he's building kind of brick by brick, block by block. thurgood marshall not yet a justice of the supreme court, he's making the case that plessy v. ferguson, which defined the acceptability of separate but equal. they're making a case to the naacp that this cannot remain the law of the land. and it's pretty clear that the case that is going to become a very common for important one for the court is actually the year that rehnquist is there is brown v. board of education. some assurance that in fact to be the case that strikes the
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doctrine down. very, very important in a unanimous decision of the supreme court. so rehnquist is part of the role of the clerk is to offer his advice and opinions to his boss about these cases. so rehnquist writes a memo about brown v. board of education and he basically says that plessy should stand. rehnquist offers this memo, gives it to jackie. jackson doesn't -- i'm sure jackson read the memo, but he posted away and of course he's one of the nine justices to unanimously vote to strike down plessy v. ferguson, which finally is decided in 1854. it was actually we heard the year after career get hereafter.
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>> significant that it gets rid of. >> host: but ran quest was against a finding in the holding in that case. rehnquist believed as a supreme court clerk that that was the wrong outcome and he argued passionately. if you think back when i was looking at his early years at stanford, it is clear that this is not something new, okay? this is not something new to him. this is really in his firmament. he believes that plessy is right and should be affirmed as he says in the memo. there are some other cases come in many come in many, many cases coming along that the court is having to decide whether to accept. and there actually is another case that the voting rights case, but it's a discrimination case. that case is called terry versus atoms. so it also comes up same year.
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the issue in terry is whether or not this club in texas, which is called the texas jaybird club, a democratic social club that if you are not a member of the club he cannot vote in the primary and essence. and only white people are allowed to be in the checks his chamber club. so the issue in that case is should they take that petition in here the case clocks and rehnquist writes to memos about kerry versus atoms, basically saying the rate of processing, and again this goes way back to the conservatism of his youth and probably his parent and such. but he writes in to more to douglas promised to jackson, asserting very, very strongly at the right of free association is such that the supreme court should let this case go, leave it alone and also espousing some
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views that are basically, he says it's about time we understand that why people are black people don't like each other much as move on. and so, those memos, all of which are in the archives of jackson, but this archives were closed. and so, it is only when they start leaking out. the first one in 1971, brown v. board of education memo in 1971. i actually reveal for the first time in an article in "the new york times." post a lot of stuff you hear pyrenees in 1971 tummies nominated, that's in the brown memo comes out. let me ask you about the terry versus atoms memos. that puts him squarely as a segregationist. now coming to check up a lot of it to his era, but many of the other clerks at the supreme court during this time what the same era.
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many of the justices were -- all of the justices were from a previous area. he seems to have taken his views a little bit further than maybe even his parents held. what is your idea other than the times and wisconsin was conservative, but didn't stand out. just go right you're absolutely right. i thought so much about this and struggled over this really in terms of i want to portray -- i wanted to portray his life very, very accurately and fairly, pulling no punches, but at the same time, not landing if they're not deserved. so i think -- i thought about it a lot. the issue for rehnquist liffey believes so passionately in individual freedom and in his dad don't know whether the phrase libertarian was one that
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was bandied about as much. but that is where he was coming from. and i think from his views, which i say in the book were clearly racist and segregationist, even by the standards of the time, considering the standards of the time they were certain way more extreme. and he went out of his way -- we haven't yet talked about his time in phoenix, but i hope we get back to that because he went out of his way when he moved to phoenix to practice law after his clerkship to really pick fights with the other side over this. she really wanted to make a strong case because he believes so passionately and with an ideologue, but also ideal to stick about individual freedoms. and i think that's why he did this. i say that he was really an unconscious -- this is an unconscious racism. it was racism, it was unconscious on his part. he was probably -- he couldn't
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possibly have been aware -- so self-aware at that time is how he would be perceived. later, clearly he understands, wow, i was really out there. and then he has another problem because by the time he is nominated in 1971 tummies clearly well-qualified for his position on the core. he's got some explaining to do about the 60s in the fifth these and it's how he handles that but i think it's actually as revealing as anything at this point. >> host: okay, let's close the loop on that before we go back to the chronology. and that's his testimony in 1971 when he is nominated to be an associate justice on the supreme court by richard nixon and in 1986 and is nominated to be chief justice by ronald reagan. both times these memos come up, both time he denies the sentiment you're describing. and you basically portray him as outright lying.
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do you think william rehnquist never faced that lie, or was he just in denial even as he got further? >> guest: i think he was in denial. the situation in 1971 is that the hearing record is basically closed. he's testified. he's so slick and smart and excellent and he's pairing up these questions. at the 1971 and again nominated in 1986 to be chief justice. the senators, burst by ted kennedy, joe biden, they don't lay a hand on him really. and so he is so excellent at kerry and his questions through the hearing record and 71 is close and suddenly shortly before the vote is to take place on rehnquist and also a loose pile up at the same time, shortly before the voters to a
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core, music magazines on the supreme court reporter for "newsweek" is a really great guy and he comes up somehow with this memo from the jackson files, the memo were they to brown v. board of education. and it's a bombshell. and so, birch buyer, senator for a very liberal and great senator from indiana at that time is kind of the disappointed leading the fight against rehnquist. and they know it's going to be close. they probably also know they're going to go down in flames, but it's close. so easter is really pushing the city starts coming out. and nixon and his attorney general, john mitchell, who actually have kind of concoct good this whole rehnquist combination, a whole another story. it is fascinating.
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so nixon and mitchell start to worry that they are going to lose this. nixon had a lot of trouble getting his nominees confirmed on just such a basis for this. so rehnquist professes that he actually doesn't even remember this memo. it's possible. because he doesn't remember it, he could be very unconsciously or consciously believe you didn't write it or that he wrote it at the time explains that this was -- this is justice jackson's request for a summation of his views, not of my own. not bad actually, there was no one there that could rebut that, even though their opinions expressed both ways. rehnquist was not under oath, said he submitted a better to the chairman at that point of the judiciary committee and said this is my recollection. it was justice jackson's views
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it as a spazzing, not my own. >> host: this is coming after the hearing. it's 1971 comes to jackson supporters aren't able to come through and say this would never have been his view. just go to hearings are closed. and so, what happens is she manages to skate on mac, probably lost them both, but manages to skate and he is approved by a vote of 68. mayor recollection is 68 to 26, which is a lot of those at that time for some nominees that had been approved. but for someone to be approved at that time, usually it was unanimous. and as far from from unanimous i think publicly that stung a little bit, but rehnquist did get on the court and managed to skate past that because the memo came in late and he was not under oath and he could say and probably very well believed that i don't remember the senate must've been justice jackson, so
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that's what he did. it comes up again later in 1986 because now we have the memo all over again. now the naacp can bring in the folks who hadn't testified before to testify to the other side of that. and by then also you have the terry versus items menus. when you start talking not his activities in phoenix during the 1960s, very, very conservative and against public accommodation laws. his outspoken opposition to immigration and the memo not only in brown, but carried the atoms in the other radiant heated suddenly begins to look like a preponderance of evidence in 1986, that he in fact probably very much was lying about this if he even remembered it. but it was his views. >> host: let me ask you real quick because we only have two
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more minutes in the segment. but he somehow was able to sort escape by some of these tough questions by senator edward kennedy, who at this point is controlling the opposition to him in 1986, senator from massachusetts with course. because of his political smarts having worked in the justice department, which would get to, he can control the year in more than usual. tell us more about how he was able to elude these kinds of questions and did he know he was lying quack >> guest: well, he simply said repeatedly, you know, i'm sorry. i just don't have any recollection of this at all. he did not want -- he did not allow himself to start going down the slippery slope. well maybe i did, let me think about this. he simply categorically denied any recollection. i just don't have a recollection of this.
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>> at the end, is not left with anything that he can really grab onto to come back to. that was very, very, i thought, it is very typical, i think, when i met him 10 years later. very typical of the way that he carried a question that he just didn't want to answer, and that's what happened. >> host: that is fascinating. if i remember correctly, william rehnquist would excuse himself from the case.
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me just finish out one more thing and then we will take a break. william rehnquist comes washington dc with the justice department. but after richard nixon was elected in 1968. >> guest: the amount of property he was able to amass at that time in phoenix, he meets the prot├ęges of barry goldwater, who is really shaking things up. he hitches up with these guys and one of the people is a key
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guy for goldwater and has also gotten the attention of the nixon administration, john mitchell, who is this friends and campaign manager and is going to be his attorney general. so he says, this guy is smarter mitchell's us, we'll need more than one cowboy. one cowboy is enough. but you persuade him to bring him to the hotel where the campaign headquarters are. and rehnquist comes in and he leads a private meeting. and he has the job. >> host: we will pick up after this. >> guest: thank you.
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>> "after words" is available via podcast great booktv.org and click on podcast on the upper left-hand side of the page. select which podcast you'd like to download and listen to a good enough while you travel. >> host: welcome back, john jenkins. we will pick up on are talking about william rehnquist. the first welcome i value and how you wrote this book in 2012. >> guest: it did not take me that long. >> host: tell us about why you decided to do it at this point. >> guest: in 1985, i was assigned to do the story for the times. in the rehnquist two times to do the story. i had written him a letter and
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he had not to my knowledge, given any interviews. but he sent a letter back right away. he said, why don't you come and then we will get to know each other better and i will decide whether i want to cooperate or not. and i went in with my questions and i will be fully prepared, and i will let him feel me out if you want him to does not have this conversation. but, in fact, we did have two very good meetings. the time goes by. my editor at the times encouraging me. this guy is wired from birth as a conservative. and i think i get it credible job with the information
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available. but after his death, his papers went to the hoover institution at stanford. he was considered a very conservative guy, he put netiquette restrictions on the papers that he probably would've been able to do, had he given, as many justices do, to elaborate congress. three years after his death, it becomes available in 2008. i knew that i needed to jump on that and be the one to go through those papers and hopefully find something to help until the story of this man. the papers were a vast trove of information. the case documents are still largely locked up.
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one of the considerations that he had is that no papers to be available from court cases when any justice who participated is still alive. and of course, john paul stevens, comes on the court case as an appointee of joe ford and is ended still alive. there are a lot of cases going back many years that are not open. but i was more interested in his personal papers, his letters to his children. his letters to his family. his diary entries and the books that he made notes about. all that is just fascinating. thousands upon thousands of files that are out there. >> that is great. several of the justices also had open their papers. one judge kept every note that william rehnquist wrote him. >> guest: the entirety of those notes with no restrictions at all. even though is papers are not
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supposed to be open, i think, but his papers are very helpful. i was very pleased. i have to thank them for those towel documents. that shows a side of william rehnquist as the papers of him that was very important to reveal. thinking of lewis powell, key and william rehnquist came in in january of 1972. please talk about the role that william rehnquist played in his own selection when it comes to washington. where we left off in our first segment, he becomes an assistant attorney general and the department of justice that he starts having a hand in selection for supreme court
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nominees. lo and behold, in the fall of 1971, he becomes one. >> guest: just come he does. william rehnquist is the person at the justice department. his record is very next he was betting successfully. some of the things that he looked through, unfortunately, good or bad, he is taking the fall for it and responsibility for. as i mentioned, richard nixon had come onto the presidency with a commitment to appoint conservative southerners to the court. it was one of those campaign promises. it is hard for us to even think about this today. but nixon was a complex man in his own right.
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and so william rehnquist and the department of justice is now supposed to be helping him find these guys. the very first two vacancies, the first two nominees the up to the court are haynesworth and carswell, both of whom failed to be confirmed. rehnquist kind of takes the fall for that. they just got hammered during the hearings. by the time another vacancy comes up, and so nixon is getting this amazing confluence of four vacancies. very early in the presidency, and then two more. black guys in holland a few months later. he was looking to replace black.
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he was hoping that he could he holland. so nixon and his attorney general, michel, decided they were going to take this thing over themselves. they cannot run the risk, and actually have another important job for william rehnquist at this point. which is he is supposed to be running a committee to declassified documents, and nixon believes, and i'm sure that rehnquist doesn't know this, but when the white house tapes came out later, the reason he wants rehnquist to do this is because he believes that if he can get these documents declassified, he can sort use them to bring the image of the kennedy family, particularly bob kennedy and jfk, and even ted kennedy. who he sees as a potential rival
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in the coming election. so the representation of these documents, he wants rehnquist to classify them so he can become out. it turns out that rehnquist is not going fast enough. nixon and his other folks the later are discredited, they actually just -- they're going to make up some documents and release them anyway. so what happens is rehnquist is busy doing that. >> host: this is a 1971? >> guest: he knows that time is his enemy. getting the jump on someone fast after these vacancy is really what he needs to do. someone has the brilliant idea, fred moore from the white house, i'm sorry, did more, you are
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correct. >> host: okay. >> guest: he had this brilliant idea that rehnquist was the guy and he is smart and he is really going to be a guy that can be on the court for 30 years or more, which is exactly what happened. they plant the seed with nixon. mitchell, you can actually listen to the tape and you can hear mitchell. at first he doesn't really like the idea. but he warms up to it. because he has a deadline and he wants to make a speech. with 10 hours before the speech, he decides that rehnquist was this man along with lewis powell. >> host: is fascinating. you mentioned the case which any one of our viewers can go and get to lookout from the archives. richard nixon, he gets kind of
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jealous when he is told about how smart that rehnquist was at stanford. i remember the president said something to the effect of, well, maybe it was about how smart he was, first in his class, and also with justice jackson. he gets on the court, and this is what you write about him. state officials could execute people for murder, stop women from having abortions, but they couldn't even give the slightest preference for african-american students at a state university. every time the court considered it, it they voted against affirmative action. tell me about his legacy? >> guest: , well, his legacy is that he made it a very acceptable -- he paved the way
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for ideological conservatives and also liberals, by the way. to be acceptable as members of the court. i think that his real legacy is not so much that he was the author of great opinions like brown and the warrior at or even wade roe. but because there really aren't, to my mind, anyway, opinions that are particularly memorable. they don't take my word for it. i asked him, what are your memorable opinions? and he said, i don't really have any memorable opinions. nothing really comes to mind as being particularly memorable. and i think that is an honest and accurate answer. >> host: that was in 1985? >> yes.
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>> guest: really, his legacy is that he came onto the court with an agenda and it was a partisan agenda. the book was the partisan. as you know, as a journalist, i wrote the story but i don't get the title. but i thought that was very accurate. i remember asking him during my interviews within do you consider yourself a partisan? so his legacy is he made it acceptable to be a partisan on the court. if you look at the public opinion polls that trace what the public thinks of the court, i think that during the prior chief justices, the sense of the public was that the court is one institution that is above.
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the court is the one institution that is above the fray. that has changed. that has clearly changed. you can trace where it has now been politicized. >> host: let me talk a little bit more about the legacy. he was very consistent in those areas that you cite in terms of racial remedies. in terms of abortion rights. it wasn't just his idea of a constitution because you talk about the political influence. there was also something larger in terms of society and the basic conservatism that you trace back with a kind of collection of factors rather than the constitution? >> guest: i think that rehnquist
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had a worldview that was set as a very young man. i had the opportunity when she was still alive in the 1980s to speak to his english teacher. charlotte blogger, who told me, and this is clearly, as i'm starting my research, tell me about this guy because someone had said one of his teachers is still alive. >> host: at sherwood high school. >> guest: yes, sherwood high school. the comment was comet was this was a young man who is very sure of himself and conservative and very traditional in his beliefs. and so, yes, i think that when william confronted a case, he did not look at the prior precedents and say, let's see what my prior colleagues thought about this. and i will be guided by that. no, he was guided very much, as
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he put it, what is on the doorstep at this point in time. and by his own personal views. yes, i think he was a very traditional conservative person who brought that to his view of the case. keeping in mind that he had read a great deal in college and he had joined the army and started reading these great books. he has viewed that as the single most important book that he ever read. which is really the defining libertarian philosophy. >> host: it is such a contrast. this supersmart, self-taught intense reader who can be first in whatever class he goes to. he can knock off work at 3:00 p.m. each day. very quick, facts and trivia and
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important things. geography, anything, you name it. but he had these trivial pursuits that you make a big deal out of. he has a whole chapter on the boredom factor. i know that in the lewis powell archives, i found a letter where william rehnquist was reading cases to him. and that is like a kid in eighth grade geography. passing up that someone in front of the teacher. but this is at the u.s. supreme court. tell me why you devoted an entire chapter to this factor, and what you make of it, this contrasted very brainy individual. >> guest: i thought that i needed to explain that his boredom, i think the title of the chapter, and i didn't title this, ward at the court.
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there is no doubt in my mind that he was intellectually challenged by most of the work that the court appeared he had been warned about this by bill douglas. bill douglas took him under his wing as a young man, and these guys were so ideologically opposite, polar opposites, and yet, bill douglas believed that as a young man coming on the court, whose 47 years old when he came onto the court, he was even much younger when he was nominated. but he believed that he inculcated that you have to have a lot of other -- a lot of other pursuits. i think that if he had not been nominated to be the chief -- he just needed vast stimulus, really. because he was so smart. and so i think that if he had not been nominated to be the chief, it is clear to me, going back and reading my interview transcripts with him that he
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would have retired. he would've retired in 1989. i mention that, i specifically said, are you ready to retire? this is the end of 1984. a lot of things changed after that. he was nominated in 1986. but at that point, he said i will be -- when i reached the age of 65 years old, in 1989 with more than 15 years of service on the court, i intend to leave. and he could decide to take cases if he wanted. he could take a senior status. he said i want to do some other things. i think he would've been bored stiff teaching, by the way, but he was also trying to write novels. he would have been, and i was personally fascinated by this. and i read the novels because they are in his papers. he was trying to become the first justice. he was very secret and very quiet, the first justice to ever
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write a novel. it never happened. you can check and it still has never happened. and he went to douglas for h. because douglas had written over 50 books and hundreds of articles. and he was just a writing machine. he was a writing machine because he had so many alimony payments to make. so he saw this, william rehnquist dead, and he introduced him to his agent. robbie williams, who is, at that time, probably the number one talent agent in hollywood at that time, and also a great author. he introduced them into this whole different world of hollywood of new york salons, and those also many very uncomfortable. but in the beginning, he was very capable with it.
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>> host: one final question, and then adjusting some points that you make overall. this is 1986. when he does decide to stay. honestly, get this amazing opportunity to be the chief justice of the united states. warren burger decides that he wants to have the constitutional anniversary commission. ronald reagan basically, in the same position that richard nixon was by default, ends up with william rehnquist. tell us about that gave -- give us an opportunity to do that. >> guest: is the chairman of the constitutional bicentennial. so berger made the point that he looked like a chief justice that came right out of the beginning,
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he just looked the part, but he really loved the ceremonial -- the ceremony of the office that rehnquist never did. he loves the administrative management side of it and thought he was very good at that. but he just had a thing for the constitutional bicentennial. so he asks for a meeting with rehnquist. with reagan. so reagan's people think that berger is going to ask for more money for the bicentennial because he is believing that it is underfunded. they debate whether to allow him to come in to meet with reagan or not. but he decides to meet with him. he decides to do so as a courtesy. so berger comes in and about 20 minutes into this discussion that he is having with the president, he drops the bombshell that he is going to resign. they have been waiting for this and now it is upon him.
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so the political guys, which includes edward needs, who is reagan's very good friend, but he is the new attorney general. at the top of the shortlist is rehnquist. because neiss believes that rehnquist will do exactly what nixon believed he would do as an associate justice. and he is right. that rehnquist will come in with an agenda to reverse what the reagan white house these is the excesses of the war in the berger quarter. >> host: reagan administration was much more vigorous. was there anyone who would have been in contention with william rehnquist to be chief justice? >> i think that sandra day o'connor, actually, you wrote a book about her.
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i actually think that at some point, a lot of people were discussing sandra day o'connor from the moment she came into the court as a potential chief justice. whether there was anyone inside the reagan administration seriously considering that, i don't know. but i know that there were many that thought the best work. ultimately, i think that when they looked at sandra day o'connor, they saw somebody -- she had this human quality about her that she was unpredictable. >> host: they didn't like unpredictable. >> guest: reagan knew that rehnquist was going to be completely predictable. there were the usual suspects out there, robert bork was out there at the time. and see that we could have been considered. but i think that in this case, it was really rehnquist to lose.
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they didn't have anybody at this point. and he came in, and whatever thought he had or might have had about retiring was right out the window. here is a challenge, even though soon after he gets there, he writes to his family, he writes one of his children that he just loathes the administration administrative burden and he doesn't know how he's going to handle that. >> host: actually turn out to be pretty good at it. >> guest: yes, he turned out to be very good. he wrote that you wanted to set the record straight. what are the most common misunderstandings about rehnquist? >> guest: it always goes back to his practical jokes. sometimes i think there was a little bit of malice and the practical joking.
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but as a journalist, covering rehnquist, one of the things that i disliked about the coverage was it stop there. so the practical joking, a few anecdotes would be used to say, here is a guy that is very collegial to his predecessors and so forth. i think one of the myths is that he was a very jovial and sort of personal and warm towards the justices. now, i will say this. the evidence in his papers, and that is what i am using as my guide. i think it is very valid, the evidence is to be had very mixed relations with his colleagues. i think that every one of them at some point felt the lash from